The Growth of the Urban Hinterlands
"Despite the economic gains brought by the back-the-city movement, concentrated urban poverty is worsening across America's cities and metro areas. Behind these trends is something even more insidious than rising economic inequality - the deepening sorting and segregation of Americans by income, education, and class" (Florida, The New Urban Crisis, 98).
Portland is the poster child for the back-to-city movement. Not only in population inversion but in church planting. As the central city gets whiter, more affluent, and more churched there's also a darker parallel storyline happening in other parts of the city. Poverty is only deepening in other places across the metro. Particularly locales that are the landing place of those who're moving out from the city center due to increasing unaffordability. But with all of the media and articles across the spectrum from Christianity Today to other outlets highlighting this trend of churches and Christians "going back to the city" it brings to the forefront that in actuality the rift and dividing line between the haves and have-nots is worsening. In cities like Chicago, San Francisco, or LA the income inequality is one par with countries like Sri Lanka, El Salvador, and Bolivia.
"By 2009, more than 85 percent of the residents of America's cities and metro areas lived in locations that were more economically segregated than they were in 1970" (Ibid.). In other words, in terms of wage and income inequality in our cities the chasm is growing and this back-to-the-city movement is only exasperating it. And yet this is where the bulk of church planting is taking place.
The urban hinterlands are on the rise ... uncool and undesirable places in metro areas are growing and becoming even more economically isolated. This is also an infrastructural conversation as well. Many of these hinterlands are in the aging suburbs that may or may not have been annexed by the city. Regardless, in urban form they are low-density, sprawling, and not serviced by the kind of mass transit that is needed. As a result most then are dependent on cars which means they are spending more money on simply getting to and from work than on housing alone. In this scenario it is difficult to get ahead let alone catch up.
What does this mean for the future of church planting in the city? Sure, one could argue that currently we're seeing a course correction from a heavy emphasis on suburban church planting from previous decades. But as of now the trends we can readily identify is that church planting, both currently and historically, has followed wealth in North America. Whether it was in the growing suburbs in yesteryear or now in the central city in the urban core today.
Is this what the gospel compels us to?